Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Moonlighting Maternity Leave

I must confess: I have been using my maternity leave as a way to change my life. As a chance to bolt my way out of working in a job I hate (in corporate speak: "it's not the right fit") and into the life of a full time writer.

Without ever being close to another real life writer, it seems like the kind of professional life I'd would enjoy, maybe even love.

I've never had a job I loved or liked. I was an elementary school teacher for two years in Camden NJ. I was miserable everyday. Then I went to grad school to study education. It seemed like the right thing to do at the time, even though I didn't like trying to "fix" an educational system that had just beaten almost everything good out of me.

Then I joined the corporate world. Just for the money. And everyday I died. For two and a half years, I thought the dying was just because I was in the wrong job. Perhaps I needed a different job. I went back to education reform. I took a job with a well known mover and shaker in the education reform world. While my husband warned me and a friend of mine reminded me that I had recently told her I was out of the education game and just wanted to stay home and have babies, I still took the job and fell flat on my face. Failed miserably. So bad I had to come back to the corporate world to meet a modicum of sanity and humanity. Hint: When corporate saves you, then you know there's a problem. A big problem.

For most of my pregnancy I was back at my old corporate job, doing the same thing with just about the same people. Safe. Boring. Mind numbing. Soul rotting.

Every day I looked forward to maternity leave. Yes, for opportunity to be with my new baby. BUT ALSO for a chance to write my way out of this mess.

Yes, I am guilty of using my precious five and a half months of maternity leave for something other than cuddling my baby. I am a criminal. A cheater. I steal time from my baby.

This has created many frustrating days for both me and my baby. I think she doesn't like computers because so much time I'm holding her while I'm trying to write something. Like now. She is ready to be done with tummy time. I know it. But I just want to finish this post with two free hands! Urghh!

We're frustrated. But I know that if I don't write, then I'll be miserable.

As the end of my maternity leave closes (much too soon), I am less naive about the magical powers of my time "off." (It's really just been my time away; no time off.) I know that I am not a famous writer or any where near. I've tried to push and stretch myself in writing. I've entered contests. Started a blog (which I'm trying to get other writer-mamas to read, but it's a tough thing to do I've learned). I've hammered through about 40 more pages of my second draft to a manuscript that I let sit on a dusty shelf for months. I've pitched my work to magazines (and still haven't heard back). I've let writer friends read my stuff. I've read several books.

I've woken up from the dead. I know I want to write. And I want to try to write for a living. That has been as much as I've managed to know while learning to care for a little human being.

I've been moonlighting during my maternity leave and it's been tough. Tough as nails. Especially between learning to be a mother (mostly all by myself), and being a stay at home wife, which I now know I am not too fond of.

Even still, despite the daily frustrations, I still feel like it's my only chance. It's my chance to see if I can do what I really want to do in life. So I write. Everyday, in between the time that is not mine alone.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Putting It Out There

Good news first: On September 30th, WOW! Women on Writing will feature me as guest blogger on their blog, the Muffin! Small (or perhaps large) victory! I am glad that someone besides me, two or three writer-friends, and my husband will read my work. Gaining an audience is part of the goal of writing, at least professionally. I have something to say that is important to more than just me and a few. This is what I keep reminding myself as I build up the confidence to live my dream as a writer-mama-wife.

Another victory: I submitted 21 pages of my "memoir" (I'm not sure what category it fits in any longer because some of it is my experience and some of it is straight fiction) to a competition and received feedback. Not the contest results, just feedback. I paid an extra fee to learn what a far-away reader-stranger was thinking as she read my work. And the good news is that she liked it and found value in my story.

But here's my entryway into enlightenment: She didn't agree with everything I'd written, i.e., where I ended the excerpt, how I phrased something, or how I organized the work. This, I must admit, surprised me and made me little uncomfortable. I wanted her to say everything I wrote was just right. I began to wonder if she was right in her critique.

I am sensitive. As a writer that is good because I can feel the world around me enough to write about it, but this experience also woke me up to the idea that readers won't agree with what I think and write. As much as I want to get my work out there and appreciated by readers, I must also be willing to accept that I am not writing the gospel. I am just writing my truth and putting it out there. That is my single job as a writer. Once it is out there, it will take on a life of it's own. I cannot control what people think about my writing. My job is just to write what resonates with me. Good lesson. Progress.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

A Little Bit Done

I'll keep it short and sweet: I submitted 21 pages of my work to an online contest!

It's been about two years since I've submitted any of my work to a contest or for a fellowship. Though I can easily blame this on the nine and a half months of pregnancy, the three and a half months of being a new mom, and a 10-month stint at a job where I had the boss from hell, the real reason is that I gave up on myself. Like every writer (I hope), I believe that my writing is good and worthy, however, I never felt like I received enough validation for my writing "out there" in the real world. I was rejected from prestigious writers colonies and fellowships. We're probably talking about 10 attempts.

Prior to my two-year hiatus from putting my work out there, I was also taking writers classes and got positive responses to my work. But because I was not selected for these classes, I just had to pay the fee, I just didn't see the responses as legit enough.

I continued to write, but I gave up looking for places to publish my work. I didn't allow people to see my work in draft form. I never finished anything. Only two 500+ page first draft manuscripts stuffed on an abandoned bookshelf in my office-turned-junkroom to show for it.

This year, when I turned 30 (yes the proverbial 30) I decided it was time to put my work out there. Again. Whether it be through writing this blog, finishing small chunks of work and asking for writer-friends to read it and give me feedback, or submitting to contests, I need to do it - regularly - to build my confidence and to begin moving in my dream as a writer.

The submission to this contest marks an accomplishment for me. As a writer. A real-life writer. Progress.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Stoten Moments

I'm writing again and I said I wouldn't do it: write on this blog. Considering that I have no readers, or at least no one who is willing to admit they are interested in what I'm writing, it just doesn't make sense to expend more energy here when I barely have time to make dinner. But I am writing anyway, despite reason. This will be short and sweet.

I worked on my manuscript today while the baby slept so I won't feel bad writing this post. It's a little break for me. I'd been thinking about writing all day yesterday but couldn't get to it until the baby was finally sleep at 10:30 PM. I wrote for 20 minutes until my eyelids just closed, went out of business. That was progress. I woke up this morning and got in another surprise 20 minutes.

I've realized that the way forward is to steal moments of my day to write. The moments now come as a pleasant surprise to me. I never know when they come, but they do come. If I don't steal them, then I'll never write because there will always be someone or something pulling at my time. The baby would always like another kiss (and I want to give her those kisses. I'm a sucker for her.) My husband would love more time with us just sitting on the couch staring at some dumb TV show when he comes home from work, the clothes always need to be washed and folded (I am the worst at this), and the tub always could use another scrub.

That's just life.

I've had the most unrealistic escape plan for awhile now and it goes like this: I will quit my job to write full time (How will we make up for the lost income?). We will hire a nanny, a cook, and a housekeeper (With what money?). I will finish my work and it will be published, meeting full acclaim (this is the not so crazy part). I will never have to work in a cube doing mind-numbing work again (one day, one day...). Ha! Sounds crazy, right? But that's what swirls around in my head all day as I trudge around the house only dealing with the surfaces of things, feeling not good enough wearing any of my hats: mother, wife, homemaker (for sure), writer. Sad, but true.

But recently, like in the last week, I've realized that this is no way to live. The more I continue to have such unrealistic desires the worse I feel about the life I have, the more I long for the unreal escape. I have an imperfect, outstanding husband who makes me laugh everyday. A daughter who is so cute and addictive. And a beautiful with lots of windows.

So I've decided not to long for a completely different life and to just steal moments to write. Page by page. Word by word.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Makes Me Wanna Holler

Today makes me want to holler. Today is not how I imagined my maternity leave. I imagined peaceful days smiling at and kissing my baby, making involved dinners for my husband, and taking long breaks to work on my memoir.

But no such luck, especially today. I am more than half way (!) through my 6-month (well really 24 weeks) maternity leave and the panic has set in on childcare. I am not the only new mother who cannot imagine putting her little baby in daycare, leaving her with some stranger for more than 40 hours a week. But I feel like it. What insane society do we live in where giving the best thing you have over to strangers is considered normal? Some parents have even suggested that this is a better thing to do than taking care of your own child full-time. This is nonsense and wishful thinking. If God gave me this baby, sent her through my body, than I want to be the one to take care of her. I feel like this is my birthright. But this is not the case.

Most of what I want today isn't.

So I spent today, every waking minute so far writing (readying a piece for contest submission), cuddling with my baby, visiting an in-home daycare provider for the first time, editing my husband's work, checking email, and taking bites in between all that stuff (still not able to get enough water). It's been a blur. I'm tired even though I haven't exercised or moved much. It's all mental.

Today is our 4th year anniversary of marriage, and as of right now, I feel no romance. I still need to pack our bags for Richmond (where grandma will happily keep the baby while me and husband go out for a celebratory dinner tomorrow night) and decide what we will have for dinner. Whew! A frozen pizza.

I say all of this to say: Writing is hard, especially on days like this in which every hat you're wearing is pulling on you, needs you for something. And not answering only makes tomorrow harder.

But to my credit, I've lifted A LOT today. As for my writing, I was able to get 21 pages of my memoir draft in good enough shape for someone to read it. It's only taken a year and a half. Hoorah! We must celebrate each writing victory. (Along with the anniversaries of a good marriage. So I must go get my mind right for that.)

Okay, if you are reading this still, leave me a note so I know you're here. It's lonely out here. Ciao.

Monday, August 1, 2011

In Between the Reality and the Dream

I must share this passage from the memoir Black Milk: On Writing, Motherhood, and the Harem Within by the Turkish writer Elif Shafak. It says everything I want to say on the elusiveness of the Dream and the clutch of Reality, but with such splendid imagination.

Dream is a rosy-cheeked lass, as charming as a water nymph, and just as playful. If you attempt to hold her in your arms, she will slip out of your grip, lithe and nimble, like a fish, like the mirage she is. Those who crave her touch only wear themselves out.

Reality is a crone with hair as gray as stormy skies, a toothless mouth and a chilling cackle. She is not ugly, not really, but there is something disturbing about her that makes it difficult to look her in the eye.

Yes, in my spare time (ha!) I'm reading Black Milk (on my Kindle!). It's a good read thus far for those of us living somewhere in between our reality and our dreams. There's an incredible amount of jumble going on in my head at any given point in the day, even when I sleep, about how to move forward with my writing and create the reality I want. It goes a little something like this:

What should I write about next? "A Good Nanny is Hard to Find"? Or work on my cleaning up my submission to Memoir magazine? Oh no! The deadline is in a few weeks!!
Who wants to read my work? Who wants to read my stuff? I need more writer friends.
I need to research magazines to pitch ideas to. O Magazine? Good Housekeeping? Where do I find the time?
What should I blog about next?
Oh wait, I don't have any readers? How do I get readers??
When do I have the chance to write next? Oh wait, the baby's crying, she needs her diaper changed, she's hungry. Spit up. My little Cutie Patootie.
Is that pitch letter ready to send off yet? Don't let perfect be the enemy of the good. Well let me read it one more time.
I need to journal, I need to release...

So on and so forth. It's the Frenzy. I've just officially named it: The Frenzy. That's what's going on in my head as it relates to writing. There are other frenzies on other important things too such as my daughter, my husband, our home, my estranged family, my health - mental and physical. These frenzies are fierce in their own right and they just knock around in my head all day long. This is what it's like to be in between the Reality and the Dream. It's exhausting.